I have to admit I had some mixed feelings when I heard Ilford had introduced a new silver gelatin paper. Anytime someone messes with my artistic material I get concerned! The history of my favorite papers goes something like this: Oriental Seagull, kaput; Agfa Portriga Rapid, discontinued; Kodak PolyMax, discontinued; Forte Polywarmtone, gone. My current paper of choice is Ilford Multigrade and I have been very happy with it for a couple of years.
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I ordered an 11×14 box of the new Ilford Classic from Freestyle Photo, and received it a few days later with Freestyle’s usual awesome service! The new paper is available in Classic and Cooltone. Classic is the neutral color most closely matched to the existing Multigrade that I use.
The current image I am working on is “Crane Reflection” and it is a fun image to print. My intention is to make the dark, grittiness of the crane contrast with the smooth, subtle tone of the cloudy sky and it’s reflection. It is a subtle balance for sure. I have just recently printed this at 20×24 inches on Ilford Multigrade and was pretty happy with the print. Using those notes I started working on printing with the new paper. From my first test strip I noticed the new paper is slightly faster, maybe a little less than a stop for this image. I adjusted for this exposure difference and printed a test print. At first I thought the new paper had higher contrast, but on further examination I decided that the contrast was pretty similar, but the black was just a little darker. There is a difference here, when this print is printed too contrasty the blacks start to dump and I don’t get any detail in the dark shadows, not good. On the Ilford Classic the shadow detail was there, but the black was very rich which is good.
The feeling and weight of Classic is very similar to Multigrade. One thing I really hate about RC paper is that it feels slimy when processing. This might not seem like a big concern, but I like a paper that feels substantial and elegant even when in the developer. The new Ilford papers claim a shorter wash time, which leads me to believe they have more protective coating on the fibre paper itself so I am glad the new paper still feels good “in the bath”. When wet, Classic looked to have a slightly different sheen than Multigrade, but once I dried the print the surface looks pretty identical.
For this print the major difference I saw between Ilford Multigrade and the new Classic is the detail and delicacy of the very high tones up around Zone VIII-X. For this print I know the exposure is spot on when I can just differentiate the cloud band in the upper right. I want that tone to be as close to paper white as possible. With the Classic I see lots of separation up in these tones. Some of this separation has drawbacks because it shows dust and bad dodging, but this separation is a good thing in the long run. For the very high tones I see a bit of grain on the Multigrade that masks some of the detail while Classic shows these details very cleanly.
I tone all my prints in Ilford Selenium 1:25 for 5 minutes. I can’t say I noticed a big difference in tone, but many other printers are saying there is a better tone change at lower dilutions or longer times. I will have to experiment with this as I sometimes miss the slight eggplant tone that some of my older papers get in selenium. Multigrade doesn’t seem to change at all for me. I’ve been trying to determine my favorite tone for the current images that I am printing. I actually am tending towards a warmer print, so I’ll see what type of tones I can get with various toners.
So overall I am relieved and happy with the new paper. It’s not quite so revolutionary that I am going to throw out my stock of Multigrade, but the new paper definitely has a sharper and cleaner look than the old so I’ll be moving to it over the next couple months. Everything is good in the silver gelatin world, hopefully Ilford will continue to provide their great products in support of us artists that refuse to give up on film and darkroom prints.